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Jewish World Review /June 2, 1998 /8 Sivan, 5758

Don Feder

Don Feder Goldwater did conservatives more harm than good

BARRY GOLDWATER LOVED HIS COUNTRY. He was gutsy and outspoken. For carrying the conservative standard at a difficult time, he deserves our thanks.

He was also foolhardy, arrogant, envious and, in his latter years, bitter. As the leader of a movement aspiring to govern, he was a dismal failure.

On accepting his party's nomination at the 1964 convention, Goldwater intoned that memorable line: "Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. ... Moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue" -- a fine sentiment, had it been put in the proper context. (The Founding Fathers were extremists.) It never was, and served only to reinforce Goldwater's lunatic-fringe cachet.

In his acceptance speech, it would have been so easy to offer an olive branch to his Republican critics, without compromising principles, by stressing points of agreement. Instead, he stopped just shy of cussing them out. ("Those who do not care for our cause, we don't expect to enter our ranks in any case.")

The square-jawed candidate worked very hard to reinforce his media image as a cross between the Durango Kid and Dr. Strangelove. He spoke nonchalantly of nuclear defoliation of the jungles of Vietnam and allowing NATO commanders to use tactical nukes at their discretion.

At a GOP unity conference, Goldwater was asked about his policy toward Germany. Eisenhower, who was in attendance, winced when the senator replied, "I think it was the Germans that (sic) originated the modern concept of peace through strength." Ike latter remarked: "You know, before we had this meeting I thought that Goldwater was just stubborn. Now I am convinced he is just plain dumb."

The Arizonan is credited with turning a clique into a political movement. If not for the troops trained in '64, Ronald Reagan would never have been elected in 1980, we are told. Perhaps. Or, possibly, if the senator had run a less disastrous campaign, it wouldn't have taken another 16 years to put a conservative in the White House.

If Goldwater hadn't dragged 36 House Republicans down to defeat in 1964, much of the Great Society might never have been enacted.

Goldwater's jealousy was most conspicuous in his attitude toward Reagan, whose televised address in his behalf ("A Time to Choose") did more for the Republican ticket than anything Goldwater did himself.

The senator resented the fact that Reagan assumed the mantle of movement leadership within two years of The Speech.

In consequence, he backed Nixon over Reagan in 1968. In 1976, Mr. Conservative supported Gerald Ford and practically accused the Gipper of extremism for opposing the Panama Canal giveaway. Not until Reagan had the nomination sewed up in 1980 did Goldwater grudgingly endorse the greatest conservative president of this century.

Perversity as well as a newfound taste for media adulation led Goldwater to attack social conservatives following his departure from the Senate. After pleading for right-to-life support during his last re-election campaign, he urged abortion rights in the '90s, employing the same incisive reasoning with this issue that he'd applied to nuclear war in the '60s. ("Women have been aborting ever since time began.")

People have been doing all sorts of things since the dawn of time, not all to the advancement of civilization and the benefit of humanity.

He loathed Christian conservatives. "These gentlemen who profess to run a political effort through the church, I think they're doing a disservice to the church and a disservice to politics." Abolitionists ran a highly successful political effort through Northern churches, as the civil-0rights movement did through Southern churches 100 years later.

In 1993, Goldwater became a cheerleader for Clinton's push for gays in the military, commenting (again with bumper-sticker logic) that you don't have to be "straight" to "shoot straight."

Republicans were making too much of a fuss over Whitewater ("no big deal") , the senator said. Those who credit Goldwater with helping to ease Nixon from office forget that he stuck with the felon nearly to the bitter end. Almost to the last, Goldwater thought Watergate was no big deal.

Before nostalgia gets the better of us, it is necessary to see Barry Goldwater as he actually was -- a mediocre mind (he told an interviewer in 1963, "You know, I haven't really got a first-class brain") whose strong suits were integrity and dignity. Long before the end, he lost even those attributes.


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5/13/98: Hillary knows what's best for everyone
5/11/98: To honor her would not be honorable
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4/22/98: School-choice is a religious freedom issue
4/20/98: Corporate execs deliver body parts to Beijing
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4/8/98: Unions fight workers rights in 226 campaign
3/30/98: Africa's leaders should apologize
3/25/98: GOP shouldn't look to media for advice
3/22/98: You should care about Clinton's 'private life'
3/19/98: Color-coded reading, product of obsessive minds
3/16/98: Amendment will end exile of G-d from our public lives
3/9/98: Havana will break your heart
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2/18/98: How many times must we say "no" to gay rights?
2/16/98: Enoch Powell spoke the truth on immigration
2/11/98: Bubba behaving badly
2/9/98: A conservative dissent on the flag-burning amendment
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1/27/98: State of the president: hollow rhetoric
1/25/98: For Monica's playmate, we have no one to blame but ourselves
1/22/98: At Yale, bet on yarmulke over gown
1/19/98: Commission tackles America's fastest-growing addiction, gambling
1/15/98: Capital punishment and the hard case: no exceptions for Karla Faye Tucker
1/12/98: Partial-birth abortion and the GOP's future: the "big tent" meets truth in advertising
1/8/98: IOLTA: the Left's latest scam to crawl into our pockets
1/5/98: Connect the dots to create a terrorist state
1/1/98: The Unacceptables of 1997: Long may they rave
12/28/97: Hypocrisy is a liberal survival mechanism
12/23/97: Chanukah is no laughing matter
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12/18/97: Bosnia, Haiti, and how not to conduct a foreign policy

©1998, Boston Herald; distributed by Creators Syndicate, Inc.